The Facing Chemo project examines the way a disease’s treatment exposes that condition to society. Every viewer that has walked into an exhibit space filled with twenty of these large framed prints (36×54 in) cannot help but be moved by the emotions depicted.
In 2008, Robert Houser was photographing a young woman for a magazine story. She mentioned during the shoot that she was about to begin chemotherapy. He wanted to be able to give her something, something of her, to help her get through the experience. She passed on his offer to photograph her, but four years later, she called him back asking if his offer still stood. In the middle of her second battle with chemotherapy, she was about to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Two days later, the two spent a rainy afternoon in her San Francisco apartment drinking tea, eating chocolate and taking photographs. She later spoke of the shoot as having been the first time in years someone saw her. Pictures up to that point had been of her disease, MRIs, x-rays, medical data; she had begun to avoid her reflection in the windows of parked cars. Now, it wasn’t about her disease, but her, the woman inside. She was still there.
It has long been recognized that the arts have the power to bridge differences between individuals of different backgrounds and to connect them through the shared experience of art, be it visual arts, music, literature, or dance. Currently there is a growing body of scientific research that demonstrates a correlation between creative engagement in the arts and the positive impact art has on emotions, attitudes and wellness. The scientific evidence suggests that people who are facing difficult and life-challenging medical issues can benefit from participating in art projects that deal with their emotions and give them a positive outlook.
Facing Chemo explores the emotions present in people as they are undergoing chemotherapy. The lack of hair, the intense realities of their disease and the chemicals themselves all play a role in forcing these portraits to be genuine reflections of the patients’ true selves. So many of the people photographed for Facing Chemo have said that being involved with the project turned out to be a turning point in their journey.
While we continue to photograph people for the Facing Chemo project, we have started a nonprofit to create other health related exhibits. The Facing Light Foundation’s mission is to move, inspire and create community around various medical topics – using art to educate, empower and heal not only those who participate in the projects, but those who view them as well.